It’s the time of year for round-ups and retrospective features. Here, we look back at some of our best drives of 2019, including a drop-top Bentley, a Volvo saloon and a Honda electric car. Tuck in to our Christmas pick ‘n’ mix, as we take you through our favourite drives of 2019.
Bentley Flying Spur
In November, Tim Pitt flew to Monaco to mingle with the Russian billionaires and enjoy a taste of the high life. A night at the famous Hotel de Paris, followed by a drive along Route Napoleon in a Bentley Flying Spur. It’s a tough job, but Tim is always happy to take one for the team.
Tim’s verdict: “The Flying Spur soothes like few other cars can. There’s also joy to be found in its details: the rich wood veneer, diamond knurling on the door handles and analogue dials on the reverse of the media screen. I’m tempted to forget my flight and set the sat nav for Calais.”
The Lake District doesn’t have quite the same appeal as Monaco – the boats are smaller, for a start – but when there’s an opportunity to drive a Ford GT, who’s complaining? Not Tim, who polished his impression of Christian Bale and headed north. Coincidentally, Tim does a mean Batman impression.
Tim’s verdict: “It responds like a race car. Anti-lag technology keeps the thrust coming, while the dual-clutch gearbox never pauses for breath. Its suspension is taut and tied-down, its steering telepathically direct. However, while its sheer speed intimidates, its balanced, cohesive chassis does not. I’m convinced I could win Le Mans.”
Ferrari F8 Tributo
Back in the summer, Richard Aucock was fortunate enough to drive the Ferrari T8 Tributo. The 3.9-litre V8 engine delivers a mighty 720hp, making it “eye-poppingly fast”. It’ll do 0-62mph in 2.9 seconds, before hitting a top speed of 211mph.
Richard’s verdict: “The Ferrari V8 sport Berlinetta line began with the 1975 308 GTB, we were told. This F8 Tributo is the latest and greatest. But the last in the line? We shall see. If it is, though, the name will be justified. This is the finest imaginable tribute to a remarkable run of mid-engined Ferrari V8 sports cars.”
Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary
Providing proof that there’s more to Motoring Research than exotic sports cars and unattainable supercars, Richard drove the very orange Mazda MX-5 30th Anniversary. Mazda launched the limited edition MX-5 to celebrate 30 years of The Simpsons… probably.
Richard’s verdict: “Best driven with fingertips, it’s nimble and flows beautifully, feeling exactly like the 1960s throwback Mazda intended since day one. The 30th Anniversary model is the finest MX-5 to date – it’s the perfect way to celebrate.”
Ford Fiesta ST M225
Keeping it real, the only way for Ethan Jupp was Essex. The Ford Fiesta M225 packs 225hp, lowering springs, upgraded brakes and a new shifter. It’s the Fiesta ST turned up to eleven by Mountune.
Ethan’s verdict: “Overall, Mountune has succeeded in further enhancing a lot of what makes the Fiesta ST such an essential grassroots hot hatch. But then, was a company this flush with fast Ford heritage ever going to botch it? Hardly.”
Aston Martin DBS Superleggera Volante
There was always going to be a battle for the keys to Aston Martin’s flagship convertible. Tim is a champion ‘rock, paper, scissors’ athlete, so the keys to the 5.2-litre V12 drop-top were pressed into his palm. It’s fair to say he rather enjoyed the experience.
Tim’s verdict: “I’m not usually a fan of convertibles; I like my car to be a cocoon, sealed off from the outside world. I’d make an exception for the DBS, though. It’s so evocative, so richly visceral, that you want to savour every sensation and drink in every decibel. The opportunity for a 211mph blow-dry is tempting, too.”
Toyota GR Supra
Was this the most hotly-anticipated car of 2019? Possibly. One thing’s for certain, the Toyota GR Supra divided opinion like no other new car this year. Tim braved the traffic in Madrid to drive the Cayman rival.
Tim’s verdict: “It isn’t quite the “Porsche-killer” Tada-San promised. The mid-engined Cayman is still a more polished dynamic package, but the Toyota counters with two extra cylinders and a vastly superior soundtrack. Then there’s the Alpine A110, arguably the best driving machine of the lot, albeit down on power and subjectively less substantial.”
Gavin doesn’t do expensive hotels and PR lunches. So when he was invited to drive the Volvo S60 in Scotland, he took a red-eye flight to Edinburgh, drove the car to Glen Etive, and was back home before the News at Ten bongs.
Gavin’s verdict: “I’m going to stare into the middle distance and contemplate a more decisive future for the S60. As a trailer for the main feature, the T5 R-Design Edition is a competent teaser. Here’s hoping the Polestar version is more of a thriller, leaving the Inscription to feel as cosetting and cosy as watching a black and white movie in front of the fire on a wet Sunday afternoon.”
Ford Ranger Raptor
As spring turned to summer, Tim took a flight to drive the Ford Ranger Raptor on the sun-scorched dunes of Morocco. The traffic was bad, but unlike the camels, Tim didn’t get the hump.
Tim’s verdict: “In the right environment, this pumped-up pick-up is as exciting as any supercar. And yes, there is nowhere in Britain you can drive like this, but that doesn’t stop me wanting one. So, forget that Ferrari, buy the Ford and spend the money you saved on shipping costs to Morocco or Baja. You will never experience driving quite like it.”
Morgan Plus 8
There was snow on the ground when Tim took a farewell drive in the last Morgan Plus 8. Although he struggled to keep the Mog in a straight line on the snow-capped hills around the Morgan factory, Tim enjoyed this last hurrah.
Tim’s verdict: “The Plus 8 closes a long chapter in Morgan history. All eyes are now on the 2019 Geneva Motor Show, where it’s rumoured the car’s ‘wide body’ successor will be revealed. Hell, we’ve only waited 51 years. Until then, I’ll imagine the Plus 8 roaring into a sepia-tinged sunset: gone, but not forgotten. Certainly not by me.”
Ethan popped his cherry in January, losing his soul to a fiery Italian. His excuse for a drive in the Ferrari Portofino: he has friends living on the Scottish border. It’s a shame he doesn’t have friends in Saint-Tropez.
Ethan’s verdict: “The Portofino isn’t the most spine-tingling of sports cars. It will, however, put a smile on your face if you take the scenic route and let that muzzled 488 lump off its lead. The rest of the time, it really is a car for all seasons: a well-judged entrance into Ferrari ownership and a supremely accomplished GT. The smallest horse in the stable is still a prize steed, by my reckoning, a worthy introduction to this most prestigious of automotive marques.”
Bentley Continental GTC
Tim does drive ‘normal’ cars. In fact, he likes nothing more than taking a trip to a convenience store in a compact crossover. Sadly for him, he was sent on a Spanish jaunt to drive a Bentley Continental GTC from Marbella to Seville. He’d have preferred a trip from Mansfield to Stockport in a Vauxhall Crossland X.
Tim’s verdict: “The old fashioned idea of a grand tour has largely been lost, but given the choice of crossing Europe by budget flight or Bentley, the GTC wins hands-down. Roof down and W12 up front, it’s a fine way to fly.”
Porsche 911 Cabriolet
If push came to shove, Tim would choose a coupe over a convertible, but that didn’t stop him falling for the charms of the Porsche 911 Cabriolet. This was the only time he has managed to crowbar ‘willy-waving’ into the first line of one his reviews. One to tick off the bucket list, Tim.
Tim’s verdict: “What impresses most is the 992’s sheer breadth of ability. How it can switch from calm to combative without pausing for breath. And how it’s still relatively practical for a sports car. As a daily driver, it would surely tick most boxes.”
MS-RT Ford Transit Connect
Gavin ventured to Wales with a mix of fear and trepidation. It’s 20 years since he had driven a Ford van, but the memories of that battered Escort still linger. Would the MS-RT Ford Transit Connect leave a better impression?
Gavin’s verdict: “Cooler than a crossover, more space than an estate car and – in my opinion – better resolved than the Transit Custom, it has banished my memories of that tired Escort once and for all. I’m not sure I’ll ever buy one, but I’ll give a knowing nod to anyone who does.”
Of all of the cars featured in this round-up, the Volkswagen Golf is the most relevant. The eighth-generation Golf goes on sale in 2020 and is likely to be one of Europe’s best-sellers. Will it lose sales to the all-electric ID.3? Time will tell.
Tim’s verdict: “The Golf still feels like the benchmark in its class. Its broad appeal and breadth of abilities make it the default ‘people’s car’ – for 45 years and counting. Don’t write this Volkswagen out of history yet.”
Lamborghini Huracan Evo Spyder
The Huracan is Lamborghini’s best-selling car, which sort of makes it Sant’Agata’s answer to the Volkswagen Golf and Nissan Qashqai. Sort of. Tim was on hand to unleash the fury of this 5.2-litre V10 drop-top.
Tim’s verdict: “The Huracan feels special at any speed: its extravagant styling and shock-and-awe soundtrack make children point, boy racers salute and rev their engines, and strangers strike up conversations every time you stop. That simply doesn’t happen in a Qashqai.”
Mercedes-Benz G 350d
Back in October, Ethan went missing for a few hours and returned with a dirty Mercedes-Benz G-Class. He did something that few British G-Class owners do – he ventured off-road.
Ethan’s verdict: “For a car with capabilities far beyond what most people will need, it’s really quite sensible. It really has had what the Kardashians call a ‘glow up’ and feels, at 40 years old, in the prime of its life.”
The Honda e electric car couldn’t be further removed from the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. What the EV lacks in electric range it more than makes up in cutesy appeal. It’s likely to be one of the most talked about cars of 2020.
Richard’s verdict: “What we know is that an early taster of the Honda e Prototype suggests it will be as appealing to drive as it is to look at and sit in. It looks characterful, and its on-road performance is distinctive too, particularly the comfort, the quietness and the turning circle.”
We’ve managed to get this far without featuring a crossover, but we must include a couple of cars that represent the most popular segment on the planet. We’ll focus on two performance crossovers, starting with the Cupra Ateca.
Tim’s verdict: “It’s true that premium alternatives cost upwards of £15,000 more, especially after you take options into account. But fast estate cars, not least the Seat Leon ST Cupra 300 4Drive and VW Golf R Estate, are similarly priced, equally practical and better to drive. It depends how much you want the elevated driving position and status of an SUV.”
Skoda Kodiaq vRS
Ethan is too young to own a seven-seat SUV. He doesn’t even have any children. But the Skoda Kodiaq vRS isn’t your common or garden seven-seat SUV. It has a Nurburgring lap record to its name. That kind of thing gets Ethan excited.
Ethan’s verdict: “If you’re dedicated to the vRS life, we’d suggest the excellent Octavia vRS estate is a more practical performance car for far less cash. It’s more economical, better looking, faster and more fun to drive. A full-fat Octavia Estate vRS Challenge will cost you £31,300, in fact. That’s a healthy £11,000 less than kick-off in a Kodiaq vRS. We also reckon the Kodiaq looks better in the chunky ‘Scout’ spec, but that’s your call.”